For every good shot at a tarpon, permit, or bonefish, there’s a cast-per-hour-of-effort ratio that on most days looks like a line graph of the U.S. economy. Then there are those days that you instantly know you’re losing, like a cold February morning when even the boxfish are lurking deep and you’re just hoping for a visual on a single gamefish.
You know you aren’t going to catch your ass with both hands, yet you’ll pole by a school of big barracudas without giving them a second glance. You’re fully aware that a simple change of tactics, flies, and retrieve would likely get you a ’cuda, yet you’re too focused on the “glamour fish” to bother.
For every bonefish that ever ripped across a flat, there’s a barracuda that has eaten one at full throttle. While permit have the market cornered on pissiness, a ’cuda that senses your presence will lock up like a virgin at Biketoberfest. Not to mention that a barracuda can teach a tarpon a thing or two about hang time and distance from exit to entrance.
Of all the traits that make a barracuda a superb fish on fly, it’s the natural habits of the species that make it unique. ’Cuda are utterly unpredictable—a lurking, lunging, grasping predator, an angst-filled arrow with a face full of teeth.
For a fish that can go from zero to blood stain at the kick of a tail, you’d think they’d be on the short-list of angler targets. Compare the similarities to freshwater cult species like musky and northerns, and you have to wonder: “Exactly how elite is the original saltwater glam slam?”
Like many saltwater gamefish that require resiliency to achieve success, Count Cuda comes with a personal threat of bodily harm. Sting a fish that’s pointing toward the boat, and if it feels froggy, it’ll likely leap, an act that might not end well for the angler. Just as dangerous is the line that trails behind it, because there’s a tendency to watch the fish with amazement and ignore the slicing Spectra in its exhaust.
There are two techniques for targeting ’cuda: fast-stripping needlefish flies, or the bait-and-switch. School fish on the flats respond best to the fast strip, the hard part being the act of throwing a chartreuse fly that’s as aerodynamic as a potato chip.
The bait-and-switch is designed for fish around reefs and wrecks, fish that dog the boat. It requires a partner and the tethering of a blue runner to a line where it will be waved in front of the Count. The idea is to annoy a ’cuda with a twitchy disposition until it bites the motor off the baitfish and then rolls out for an arced return engagement with the torso. The key for the angler is to place the fly in the blood spot.
For all the threat of carnage, a barracuda’s main advantage is its speed. Since speed is the result of symmetry and profile, it’s no surprise that a fish shaped like a bullet will push a minimum layer of water. That same speed is what causes a spool to quickly dwindle to steel as another barracuda establishes its claim to gamefish status.
Mike Holliday is a veteran Florida writer and editor who frequently contributes to ESPN. He owns and runs The Holliday Group, in Stuart.